Written by Rhys Paul
Ceremonies are becoming more common in football, so we should have all expected the biggest one so far to take place before Euro 2016 kicked-off. Once the extravaganza was over, it was time to get down to what the tournament is all about: football. In truth, it failed to live up to the scale of the ceremony and the anticipation of the fans – at least for large parts of the match. That was until the 89th minute. With it looking like the home nation would have to settle for a 1-1 draw with a Romanian side they were expected to beat, Dimitri Payet was responsible for what was arguably the most spectacular sight of the entire night.
In hindsight, the way the game panned out is something that could have been predicted. The weight of expectation on France to do well was felt even before kick-off and this appeared to impact what turned out to be a largely unconvincing performance. It is easy to criticise France, but credit must go to a stubborn Romania team who showed why they had only conceded two goals in qualifying.
Had it not been for the quick reactions of Hugo Lloris, Romania would have been first to break the deadlock after Bogdan Stancu reacted quickest to Romania’s first corner of the game. The French also struggled to deal with the second corner that followed and this could prove to be the side’s Achilles heel if the problem persists. At the other end of the pitch, France had more than enough chances to take the lead in the first half. Antoine Griezmann had a header thwarted by the post and Olivier Giroud had two chances he really should have done better with. Many of the 14 efforts France had were created by MVP of the match, Payet. After a quiet start, his influence in the game grew and with it so did the dominance of Deschamp’s men. Registering 65% of the possession, France did show their quality at times. There is still no overlooking the fact that star performers, Paul Pogba and Griezmann failed to perform to their ability against Romania.
credit Xavier NALTCHAYAN
Romania had several chances as well. Out of the 10 shots they registered, they failed to test Lloris as much as they had done in the opening minutes. Once the deadlock was broken by Giroud heading in Payet’s cross in the 57th minute, it was difficult to see Romania getting back into the game. Although questions will be asked of the French defence, Lloris was more than capable of preserving his team’s lead. For some reason, Patrice Evra decided to give away a needless and avoidable penalty by tripping Nicolae Stanciu only eight minutes after Giroud’s opener. You would be forgiven for blaming the challenge on inexperience, but Evra – at 35 years old – is a 73 cap veteran who made his debut 12 years ago. It was inexcusable.
At 1-1, the game was still winnable for both nations. The introduction of Kingsley Coman breathed life into the team down the left flank. His link-up play with Payet – who was central to everything France produced – was a particular highlight. The resoluteness of the Romanian defence frustrated France with Vlad Chiriches and Dragos Grigore making some vital challenges to defuse potentially damaging attacks.
credit Xavier NALTCHAYAN
Payet always looked like the only Frenchmen capable of unlocking the Romanian defence as the home nation looked for a winner. He will deservedly take the plaudits, but the industrial, tireless performance of N’Golo Kante and all-round solid display of Blaise Matuidi should also be recognised. With the clock ticking, Payet collected Kante’s pass and released a devastating 20 yard strike whilst surrounded by three players to cap what was already a Man-of-the-Match performance. France was sent into jubilation and the tears of Payet as he was substituted suggest this was much more than just a win for some.
Despite failing to win as comfortably as some had expected, France can take comfort knowing they have kicked-off their campaign with a win. The team is capable of better performances and they will surely improve in the next game against Albania. Romania should be encouraged for pushing the favourites and they do not appear to be the pushovers many dismissed them as. All-in-all, the end result was one many of us expected from the opening game with France claiming 3 points, albeit in a manner not many of us predicted.
Hugo Lloris – 7
Bacary Sagna – 7
Adil Rami – 7
Laurent Koscielny – 6
Patrice Evra – 5
Paul Pogba – 6
N’Golo Kante – 8
Blaise Matuidi – 7
Antoine Griezmann – 6
Dimitri Payet – 9
Olivier Giroud – 7
Substitutions: Kingsley Coman – 8, Anthony Martial – 7, Moussa Sissoko – 6
Ciprian Tatarusanu – 7
Cristian Sapunaru – 6
Vlad Chiriches – 6
Dragos Grigore – 8
Razvan Rat – 7
Nicolae Stanciu – 7
Ovidiu Hoban – 6
Mihai Pintilii – 7
Adrian Popa – 6
Florin Andone – 6
Bogdan Stancu – 7
Substitutions: Denis Alibec – 7, Alexandru Chipciu – 6, Gabriel Torja – 6
Next game for France – v Albania (15th June)
Next game for Romania – v Switzerland (15th June)
Do you agree with these ratings? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Nazionale Calcio